Thursday, October 31, 2019

Beautiful Lake Bled

Trip date: May 2019

I arranged with my hotel in Ljubljana to have a car pick me up and take me to the airport after breakfast and check-out for €9. I was picking up a rental car and driving out to Lake Bled for an overnight.

I arrived at the airport rental office at 9am, an hour ahead of my reservation time, and found it closed. I called and the office manager told me she was running some errands and would be in as soon as possible. Gotta love small countries!

It was a beautiful day to drive around the country and the highway was super easy with minimal traffic. I did accidently take the exit before I meant to, but was rewarded with the cute village and interesting church of Brezje, a pilgrimage site of Slovenians.
Next up was the adorable town of Radovljica which a friend had suggested for my lunch stop. At Restaurant Lectar I had a plate of the traditional Slovenian dumplings, Idrijski žlikrofi. These cute little pasta hats are made from dough stuffed with potato; mine then had a delicious meat sauce. Very filling and very good.
After lunch I checked out the inn's Gingerbread Museum (Lectar means gingerbread) which is in the 500 year old building's basement. Gingerbread baking has been a tradition in Slovenia since 1766. Elaborately decorated hearts were a common gift and still are, along with many other shapes and characters.
Radovljica is a great stop, the town is incredibly cute, and they are very proud of their traditions. This was a nice suggestion (thanks Rachel!) and I'd make the same suggestion to you.

From here it was an easy 15 minute drive to Lake Bled and the castle. The castle was ok, nothing out of the ordinary as far as castles go, but the views of the lake were incredible! So I did a quick tour around, then grabbed a glass of wine, and sat admiring the stunning blue waters of the lake.
Later, I checked into Hotel Triglav, which sits at the northwest side of the lake, very near the train station. The hotel originally opened in 1906 by the then mayor of Bled, and is currently owned by his grandson.

My room had a balcony with a picture-perfect view of the lake, famous island, and the surrounding mountains. It was so stunning I decided to get a bottle of wine from the restaurant, and spent the rest of my day reading and enjoying the views.

I had dinner that night at Restaurant 1906, the hotel's very nice eatery. My 3-course meal included potato soup with truffle oil, saddle of veal with struklji (another traditional Slovenian dumpling made from dough, stuffed with cheese and herbs, rolled up and baked), and chocolate mousse. Dinner started out rough when I requested a martini made with a local gin and it arrived very sweet. The evening righted itself as all the food was great, and the Slovenian Pinot Noir I had was excellent. And the dining room looks out directly to the lake for brilliant views all evening.
Still being jet lagged, I was up at sunrise the next morning but the breakfast room wasn't open until 7:30. The coffee station was set up though so I grabbed a cup and took it back to my room, choosing to read in bed before heading down to the buffet. Excellent buffet when I came down later, and my table came with another stellar view.
After breakfast, I hiked down to the lake in order to take one of the pletna row boat trips out to the island. But they didn't start until 11am so I grabbed a radler and wrote some postcards. It was an absolutely stunning day and I was happy to sit out in the sun.

For €13 each, the captain rows his boat with about 8 passengers out to the island and gives you 30 minutes to explore. This is more than enough time to check out the church, ring the church bell (and make a wish), climb up the tower, and walk around the tiny island. Tickets into the church are not included in your boat price.
This is honestly one of the prettiest places I have been. And it's small enough to do in a night or two. The scenery is just unreal, and I snapped a lot of photos on my 5-mile hike around the lake after I returned from the island.

The hotel had recommended I stop at Sova for lunch during my hike, and it was fantastic! This truffle pasta and a glass of wine set me back €17!
I continued my hike to the east side of the lake, my next stop at the Hotel Park for a piece of the local specialty cream cake on their terrace. It was a decadent hike!
I finished my hike around the lake and back up to the hotel. My bags were packed and in the trunk, I was on my way to the very west part of Slovenia for a very special dinner! It had been a wonderful day and I was excited for the next part!

I can't recommend Slovenia enough! Go now before it is on everyone's list!
All photos from Lake Bled here.

Other posts from this trip:

Something About Slovenia
One Night at Hisa Franko

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Something About Slovenia

Trip date: May 2019

Why Slovenia? Why not! While researching for my trip to Croatia (more on that later) I started reading about this small country, once part of former Yugoslavia, and not to be confused with Slovakia (been there, done that), and thought it would be great for a little solo exploration.

So I cashed in some miles and flew Seattle to Las Vegas on Alaska Air. I killed a couple of hours in the Business class lounge and also on the Wheel of Fortune slot machines. I mean if I'm going to have a layover, Vegas is the spot for me!

From here I flew non stop to Frankfurt on Condor Air, which was my first time with them. Business class was solid, it was a brand new plane but in general not as posh as some other airlines. The service was friendly, the food was good, there was plenty of champagne, and my lay flat seat was comfy but didn't actually completely lay flat. But all good and I'd fly Condor again.
From Frankfurt I purchased a quick flight on Adria Air, another first for me. My 3 hour layover gave me time to collect my bag, go thru passport control, check in for Adria, and have a drink in the pre-security lounge (thanks to my Priority Pass that I just started using!).

FINALLY I landed in Ljubljana. Well, I landed in a field in Slovenia as that is where the airport is!  I had arranged an airport pickup thru my hotel for €9 and he was waiting with my name on a sign when I walked out of baggage. Easy peasy.

I spent 2 nights in the capital city at the City Hotel, which was fantastically situated. My room was great with a big comfy bed, and a huge breakfast buffet. I'd absolutely recommend this spot, even though it feels a bit business-y.

That evening I walked along the Ljubljanica River, taking in the gorgeous buildings lining either side. This city is seriously pretty! I sat outside at Suklje Wine Bar and had my first glasses of both white and red Slovenia wines along with a salad that had prosciutto quiche and dried figs on it.

The next morning I was up early and looking forward to exploring. Ljubljana is pretty small and very easy to walk around, so seeing the entire city in a day is perfectly doable. I crossed the Dragon Bridge on my way to the TI to pick up a tourist card. You'll see dragons all over as they are one of the mascots of the city.
I spent the morning walking around the old town, browsing the market vendor's selection of sausages, olive oil, and black truffles. Slovenia has a lot of the same gourmet foods of northern Italy, so black truffles and pasta are everywhere! SWOON!

It literally takes about an hour to walk around the entire old town. It's super cute and dotted with interesting art, mainly sculptures. I made my way down to the river and used my tourist card to take a wooden boat tour. As the weather was a bit drizzly, there were only 4 other people on board. I bought a glass of sparkling wine for €2.50 and enjoyed the sightseeing!
After the tour I walked back to the castle on the other side of the river. My card got me a ticket for the funicular and entry. The castle isn't a must-do in my opinion, but views from the top of tower were great, if a bit grey.
All this before lunch! I had reservations at Monstera Bistro, which serves a choice of 2, 3, or 4-course menu. I chose a starter sushi roll of local trout, braised beef cheeks with truffle oil, and strawberry pavlova with red peppercorn ice cream for €20. And of course glasses of local wines. I'd highly recommend this cute restaurant.

After a much needed nap I set back out for the cathedral. It wasn't yet open when I passed it in the morning, and then was closed for cleaning when I went at noon. It's a beautiful church with brightly painted murals, and a lot of gold! I was happy it was open on my 3rd try.

Not far from the church is the Movia Wine Bar where I sat for a tasting. Movia is one of the largest producers of Slovenian wine and has been around for quite a long time. I chose to do their line up of 5 wines, including Gredič (which is also called Furlanski Tokaj, but not the same as Hungarian Tokaj), Veliko belo (a white blend), Sivi Pinot Ambra (a natural, orange pinot grigio), Cab Sauv, and Veliko Rdeče (a red blend). 
The bar also carries other producers and offers other wine tastings, along with a lot of information on the grapes and varietals of Slovenia. It's a great stop if you are interested in learning more about wines from this country.

I was lucky enough to come across Kolibri Bar when researching cocktails in the capital city and as soon as I walked up I knew this was the spot for me. Gorgeous jewel box style bar, with a menu of classic cocktails each with a slight twist, and Eva, the passionate and friendly bartender. 
She introduced me to Broken Bones Gin, a local gin that I couldn't find for purchase anywhere. She made me a few delicious cocktails, and even politely asked a (woman) patron, who was quite drunk and openly hitting on me, to leave. I ended up staying longer than I intended and by 10pm when I reached the restaurant I was planning on having dinner at they had closed the kitchen. Go to Kolibri!

Seems no restaurants stay open past 10pm on a weeknight anyway, so I grabbed a slice of pizza, which is very unlike me. And being so close to Italy I have to stay this was one of many fantastic slices I would have on this trip. 

People always ask me what my favorite countries are, which is a really hard question to answer! But I'd say Slovenia is absolutely in the top 5 and I'd highly suggest visiting before tourism escalates, which it is sure to do!

All photos of Ljubljana here.

Other posts from this trip:
Beautiful Lake Bled
One Night at Hisa Franko

One Night at Hisa Franko

Trip date: May 2019 I was watching the Netflix show  Chef's Table  and couldn't even figure out where Chef Ana Roš' restaurant...

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